How creative youth development makes a difference in the community

Khalil Bleux is the founder of Arts Amplifying Youth, a southeast San Diego-based collective of artists and teachers dedicated to improving the lives of young people in underserved communities of color through this called the creative development of young people.

“I grew up in this community and was raised by my community members,” Bleux said. “It was an experience that required the whole village. They connected with me and helped me overcome the difficulties I had in my life. I believe in the foundations of creative youth development because I am living proof that it works. I was taught that art can become a tool for life. It helped me to become an advocate and do work to effect change.

“The difference between traditional arts education and creative youth development is that in traditional arts education spaces, art is designed to fit in with academics. It is considered a choice or an afterthought. In creative youth development, the way we use art centers around developing fundamental life skills that prepare young people for success and teach them how to use their voice.

Creative youth development organizations supported by grants and donations are intimately connected to young people in their communities, using all of the arts as a medium to teach life skills. Some groups work on site with schools or in residences; others operate completely outside the classroom environment. Their teachers and leaders are often San Diego arts professionals who volunteer their time. Many more are young adults who have themselves been mentored or taught music, dance, visual arts or drama in creative youth development programs, then stayed or returned to become themselves mentors or teachers.

They are all making a difference in the lives of young people in San Diego County.

Matt D’Arrigo is director of creative youth development for the Clare Rose Foundation, which launched a creative youth development initiative five years ago and co-founded the San Diego Creative Youth Development Network. Its partners include the dance-focused David’s Harp Foundation and A Step Beyond and transcenDANCE, as well as participating entities such as La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe Theater and the San Diego Opera.

“The arts,” D’Arrigo said, “is the hook, the way to engage young people. Creative youth development organizations offer academic support, academic and career support, leadership development, and mental health support. The majority of young people in these programs are dealing with some sort of trauma.

“When you’re in class, there’s so much else going on. These programs provide young people with a safe space to go that is not their parents, principals or teachers. They have adult mentors with whom they can open up and form lasting bonds of trust. They can discover that their tribe is who they really are.

Developing the creative arts is arts education, “only much cooler,” said 15-year-old David’s Harp Foundation founder Brandon Steppe. “That’s what it’s about.”

David’s Harp teaches hip-hop music and production to its at-risk students, using its own studio facilities in southeast San Diego.

“Young people come to our facilities, create the music they love, and they can trade their good grades and behaviors for extra studio time,” Steppe said. “It works because the music is cool. Kids would say the beats are drugs. They want to make the music they hear. What we give them is the opportunity to learn all the technical aspects.

“I’ve seen the grades of young people change dramatically. It also works socially, because we love them.

Last summer, the David’s Harp Foundation received a $1 million gift from billionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. Along with grants and other private donations, this propels the organization toward its mission, which, Steppe said, “is deeply involved in supporting young people through systems, whether it’s the justice system, of the foster care system or homelessness, and uses art to be able to navigate these systems.

Music is a way to guide young people through the trials of growing up and the struggle to find themselves and their way in life. The same goes for theatre, literary arts and the performing arts taught by the association of Khalil Bleux.

There is also dancing.

“It’s a unique art form in that it embodies,” said Catherine Corral, co-founder and executive artistic director of the Lemon Grove-based transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project. “Dance makes it possible to share emotions and ideas without having to rely on the written or verbal word.

“We know that a lot of trauma is stored in the body. Being able to literally take out things that don’t feel right and express with the instrument what the body is is really important for young people.

Disadvantaged young people who learn dance at transcenDANCE, 16, learn a lot more, about the world and about themselves.

“The younger generation is questioning in more profound ways the norms and values ​​that have been maintained in mainstream society,” Corral explained. “Social justice issues, racial equality issues, queer identity issues – all the issues they want to talk about and think about critically. They need a safe space to have conversations about themselves without judgment.

A recent rehearsal at transcenDANCE studios in Lemon Grove.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The notion of a liberating movement is also true at Escondido-based A Step Beyond.

“We’re here because we think movement as a practice is very good for our young people,” said Jennifer Oliver, the organization’s artistic director. “Through movement and an artistic expression of movement, they will grow and get what they need to be healthy and have good body practices that will last them a lifetime, and the opportunity to be present with each other. others and build relationships. ”

A Step Beyond, 8, operates out of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. It currently serves 280 youth, most of whom identify as Hispanic or Latino, and hopes to reach 350 at full capacity.

“We’re within walking distance for most of our youngsters,” Oliver said. “We go to the schools, but mostly we get our youngsters from our current youngsters. Many families pass our name on to their families and friends. We have cousins, aunts, nieces, sisters and brothers.

Oliver offered, “The key to creative development for young people is in the title. The work is focused on the development of our young people, and the arts are a means to achieve this. Everything we do always comes back to the student at the center of the work. We ask them, ‘Does this have any value in your life? Does it help you achieve your own personal goals? Does it work in the context of how you live, what happens in school? » ”

In fact, what is considered creative youth development has been around for decades in one way or another, but, noted D’Arrigo of the Clare Rose Foundation, “it has never been named. When you set it, you can secure the resources and relationship opportunities you need to manage these organizations. »

What they all share is the holistic application of the arts to the life, present and future of the young person.

“The arts are such a strong and powerful platform for young people that if you engage them in a meaningful way, you can support them in other ways as well,” D’Arrigo said. “He uses the arts as a vector of transformation for young people and their communities.

Coddon is a freelance writer.

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